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Controlling your home’s relative humidity levels has significant more benefits than a reduced heating bill.
Airborne moist directly influences how comfortable you feel and inappropriate humidity can wreck your house as well as cause serious illnesses.
Did you know…. that improper humidity can make you feel cold, clammy or itchy and even depressed?
No wonder relative humidity, a factor of air quality that should not be underestimated, has gotten more and more attention the past years.
Considering home is the place we spend most of our time, maintaining ideal indoor humidity levels is an essential element of living consciously.
On average people spend about 90% of their time indoors and 65% of that time we are at home.
As you read you’ll discover:
- How improper humidity levels can wreck your health and home
What you may not know about poor humidity levels and your health
When it’s humid outside we notice the air is thick and we tend to sweat easily. In case of excessive indoor humidity we react differently. It often results in respiratory infections and allergies which lead to sneezing, coughing, and itch.
In fact, many illnesses are either caused or aggravated by poor indoor air quality. Some of the symptoms of poor humidity levels include, upper respiratory congestion, wheezing, fatigue, dizziness, and watery eyes.
More severe health effects due to poor indoor air quality include: rashes, nausea, rapid heartbeat, asthma attacks, heat stroke, muscle pain, and frequent headaches.
This is what happens when excess indoor humidity gets a hold of you
a short real life example:
My niece has a permanent runny nose, is the only one in her family that suffers from allergies, and once in a while feels dizzy for no directly assignable reason. One time she was confined to bed because of a really nasty balance disorder. Another time she suffered from a truly horrible itch that last for days and felt almost unbearable.
When I visited her at her house a while ago I noticed a moist scent. At a following visit it smelled damp again. I asked her about it and she told me she realizes she doesn’t ventilate sufficiently. Also the presence of silverfish indicate excess humidity in her home.
Just a week ago her doctor urged her to take action upon the home humidity situation after she recently had to brake off a trip abroad because of feeling weak, wiggly and dizzy. The cause? A virus according to the MD but seemingly, considering his recommendation, related to indoor moist.
Note: I do not want to claim that all my niece her complaints are a direct result of excess humidity. However, all of these are generally linked to improper humidity levels or subsequent mold or mite allergies.
The link between improper humidity and feeling depressed
We all agree that peeling wallpaper, a damp scent, moist spots, mold and mildew, or rotting frames do not create the most appealing atmosphere. But are you aware that humidity levels directly impact your mood? Even far before such telltale signs are visible.
A study by Persinger (1975) shows that there are “significant negative relationships between relative humidity and “mood scores,” which represent a measure of happiness.”
Another study found that physical strength, feeling healthy, happiness, and social affection are specific aspects of our emotional well-being that were influenced by relative humidity.
Why both old and new homes are at risk of being wrecked by moisture
When indoor humidity levels are too high, condensation on windows and walls starts to cause structural damage. Damage to the house manifests in wood rot, molds, damp spots, and corroding furniture.
Costly damage caused by moisture that builds up can occur between the walls and ceilings, paint may start to peel as well as permanent wood warping/damage.
Water can also seep in between window molding and weather stripping, which can either freeze or expand depending on external temperatures, and cause damage that way.
Older homes and apartment complexes may not be as well equipped with proper insulation and ventilation and are less energy efficient. Such homes may be more susceptible to holding a surplus of moisture. Poorly insulated walls, ceilings and windows can retain an excess of moisture within the home.
Buildings that are more structurally sound are generally able to retain proper heat and moisture levels. On the other hand, modern homes are insulated to trap heat, doors and windows are weatherstripped and caulked to lock out cold outside air.
These superinsulated homes, still a result from the oil crisis in the mid 1970’s when the trend to reduce energy usage was born, also keep excessive moist, or too dry air, inside. Since air remains longer within, so do pollutants present in the air. Mechanical ventilation in the form of heat recovery ventilators (aka heat exchangers) is highly recommended for such tightly sealed homes.
What real estate flippers do when they see damp spots
You’ve seen those home flipping programs on TV right? Then you may know how these house flippers react when there are indications of excess moisture. A simple damp spot often means the purchase is a no go. It’s a warning sign. A huge, fierce waving, bright red flag. Why?
Because where smoke is is fire and where moist is is mold.
Well, there’s a big chance on mold and mold is not only dangerous to our health but can be very hard, if not impossible to get rid of. It’s no exception that in case of severe mold infestation all the floors, walls, and ceilings have to be replaced. Needless to say this makes an investment a whole lot less attractive.
Mold’s reproductive spores are tiny and elusive, easily released to the air thus easily inhaled. Exposure can lead to nausea, headaches, skin rashes, runny noses, sinus problems, and coughing.
Memory loss and feeling tired and listless are also commonly described to mold but according to the CDC these are not proven.
Some people have no sensitivity to mold. They just don’t get sick or feel unhealthy. Others however are extremely allergic to mold.
Little known effects of excess humidity
Medical studies indicate that maintaining your home’s humidity between 30% and 55% restrains the survival of various viruses, including influenza, polio, measles, and herpes.
Not only viruses but also fungi, mites, molds, mildew and other sick makers thrive on high humidity.
Mite populations, for example, flourish at 80% relative humidity but are minimized when the relative humidity is below 50%. Molds thrive in dark, damp and humid places, and are not only detrimental to a home but its human inhabitants and their pets as well. Most species of fungi need a relative humidity of at least 60% to exist. Bugs such as cochroaches and centipedes also love humidity.
But to make matters worse, there’s toxins too..
The amount of formaldehyde from indoor building materials that evaporates is also influenced by relative humidity levels. The same applies to the formation of salts and acids from sulfur and nitrogen dioxide, and the rate of formation of ozone.
Causes of moisture issues
A variety of issues can affect the amount of humidity within the home. From a damp basement, leaking or sweating pipes to a leaky roof or ceiling. Toilet tanks, water pipe surfaces, or windows, may cause condensation during the cooler months.
Or maybe there is poor drainage in the area in which you live which causes excessive or unnecessary flooding. But in many cases it’s simply a matter of insufficient ventilation.
Carpet can retain moisture and, on humidity thriving dust mites, love to live there.
Malfunctioning oil and gas based heating appliances or combustion appliances can also emit moisture if they are not serviced or function properly. This is called combustion spillage or backdrafting.
Heating systems need to be inspected and adjusted by a heating contractor every three years for gas based, and annually for oil based. If you use unventilated space heaters, read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
Combustion appliances include; space heaters, ranges, furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters and clothes dryers. Improperly vented of unventilated combustion appliances will greatly increase the moisture and pollution of the air.
What exactly is relative humidity (rH)?
Humidity is vaporized water contained in the air. The current temperature along with the amount of vaporized water is known as relative humidity (rH).
Warm air is capable of holding more water vapor than cold air. When the air contains as much vapor as it can possibly hold for what the current temperature may be, the humidity level is at one hundred percent.
Once the air has reached the point of holding one hundred percent humidity, it is also known as reaching its dew point. Once air has hit its dew point, water droplets or condensation, now becomes visible on windows, walls, and possibly other objects located within the home.
If you live in a climate where the seasons change drastically from one to the next, it is especially important to know how to properly measure and maintain the suggested humidity levels. Apart from relative humidity, also air movement contributes to thermal comfort.
In the summer months, it has been noted that the relative humidity level should be no more than 60 % and in the winter months about 20%+. These numbers are assuming that there is a constant indoor temperature of 68 – 75 degrees throughout the winter months and 72 – 79 degrees during the summer months.
How to save money by controlling rH
When I was a kid we lived in an old farmhouse that always felt drafty and cold. It had a musty smell. There was condensation on the windows all the time and even in summer it wasn’t pleasant. My parents energy bills were sky high.
Your thermostat is on a comfortable temperature but you still feel cold? Chances are the humidity in your house is too low.
When it gets colder outside the ideal indoor relative humidity will decrease. This has to do with the fact that there’s a bigger difference between indoor and outdoor temperature in the winter. Since warm air can hold considerably more moisture than cold air a higher indoor temperature and RH result in a bigger chance on exceeding the desired indoor humidity levels.
Therefore, such conditions ask for humidification during winter in areas with cold winter climates. Also, higher humidity can help you feel warmer so when condensation is not an issue you may want to keep indoor humidity a bit higher. When humidity is low you feel colder. This is due to moisture evaporating from your skin which ensures a cooling effect.
Dehumidifying allows you to use up to 3% less energy for every degree the thermostat is raised.
|Outdoor Temperature||Recommended Relative Humidity|
|+20° and above||+68F and above||up to 35% to 40%|
|+10°||+50F||up to 30%|
|0°||32F||up to 25%|
|– 10°||14F||up to 20%|
|– 20°||-4F||up to 15%|
How to measure indoor humidity
Do your windows ever fog up? Have you noticed any moisture build up within your closets or have a presence of mold in your home or apartment? Are there silverfish crawling around? Any time moisture is visible in the home it indicates that your living space has too much humidity.
Here’s a simple test that can be done with items that everyone has at home to measure if the air is considered too dry or not.
You should conduct this test in a separate area from the kitchen because if you are cooking or have just cooked, the results may not be as accurate as they would be if this test had been performed elsewhere.
- The first step is to get a glass with three ice cubes of ice in it, fill with water and stir.
- Once this is complete, wait a total of three minutes and then check to see if there is any condensation that has formed on the outside of the glass.
If the answer is no, then the air in your home is too dry and you may want to purchase a humidifier. You could also, for example, temporarily ventilate less while showering or cooking.
Since outdoor and indoor temperatures fluctuate, the best way to measure humidity is with an instrument called a hygrometer. Hygrometers, a.k.a. humidity sensors or relative humidity indicators, measure the amount of condensation as well as evaporation.
There are quite a few variations of hygrometers available in various price ranges. The cheaper models are mechanical and may respond less quickly than digital, battery-operated models.
By far the most popular and very well reviewed humidity gauge on Amazon is the AcuRite 00613A1 Indoor Humidity Monitor at not even 10 bucks.
Nest (the smart thermostat) now has a ‘Cool to Dry’ feature that‘s designed for extremely humid climates. It automatically detects humidity and let’s Nest optimize your air conditioner to avoid a muggy house. Be aware that it’s an expensive way of reducing humidity so it’s recommended to try other options first.
The benefits of ideal home humidity levels
To wrap it up, there are 10 reasons to dehumidify your damp house.
- less bacteria and viruses,
- less bugs,
- reduced risk on allergies caused by dust mites and other bugs,
- no mold and mildew,
- less toxins,
- increased overall wellbeing (a more pleasant atmosphere),
- fewer trips to the doctor because you are healthier,
- you will probably feel happier
- lower heating costs,
- no risk on damage to the house and furniture.
Here are tips on how to reduce home humidity.
Are you familiair with indoor humidity issues? Share your experiences below.
Image credit: Fight Club, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation